Category Archives: Inspirational

A Penance Service

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When I was a little girl, I attended a Catholic school, where we went to confession as a class once a month. Nuns were our teachers, and the school was a strict, respectful environment. Probably the polar opposite of what we have in our public schools today.  Back then (in the stone ages) eating meat on a Friday was a grave sin.  One particular time I confessed to a priest (who had the reputation of being rather nasty) that I had eaten chicken noodle soup on a Friday.  I was sick, I explained, and my Mom gave it to me because it was the only thing I could eat and made me feel better. Well, Father Nasty reamed me out as if I had committed murder.  “Wasn’t there anything else in the house to eat?” he scolded. Thank God the confessionals were private back then and he couldn’t really see who I was for I was sure I was blushing. My penance was heavy, consisting of at least five Our Father’s, ten Hail Mary’s and I don’t know what else, but I remember kneeling and praying for a very long time for the dastardly deed of eating meat on Friday, which added up to a few pieces of chicken in broth. I told my Mom about my confession, and she was really mad at the priest.  I don’t think she ever actually spoke to him about it, but she had conversations with the other moms and her sisters. I recall avoiding him like the plague after that.

Many years have passed, and times have changed. Nowadays meat is only prohibited on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays of the Lenten season.  I make it to confession not monthly but maybe once a year, usually around Easter or Christmas. The other day I went to the Easter Penance service with my aunt.  When we arrived, I was surprised to see that there were already many people in line. We got in a line for an older, silver-haired priest. The line moved quite quickly, and before I knew it, I was up.  Last year my mind went blank when I was confessing, so this year I wrote a little list to remind me of mostly petty, insignificant stuff, but sins nonetheless.  I started with number one, which I did remember and then glanced at my list, explaining to the priest that I went blank last year and needed some reminders. “May I see the list?” he asked.  “Um, sure,” I said hesitating. I fumbled and unfolded it, handing it over to him.  He barely glanced at the note at all then looked into my eyes as he ripped it into tiny pieces. Oh geez, I’m in trouble now, I thought.

“I think this is what Jesus would do if you handed him a list of your sins,” he said. A tear escaped my eye as I stared into his kind eyes and saw his gentle smile.  “Pray one Our Father.”   He put his hand on my head and gave me absolution. Then he said, “Just be a good person and do better.”

A lot is being said about priests these days, and for some rightly so. Someday the atrocities of some will have to be answered for. A lot of people have turned away from the Catholic Church because of it. But I can’t help to think that good, sincere priests outnumber the others. I believe there are priests who genuinely want to care and minister to people for all the right reasons.  They want to teach us kindness and forgiveness and are trying to direct us to the power of faithfulness and the path to trusting in God and in His goodness in all circumstances. Tonight I was blessed to be in the presence of one of those.

I knelt in a pew in the quiet of the Church and said one Our Father.  I marveled at the lesson I had just learned. I was reminded that Jesus gave his life for all of our sins, and we are forgiven.  My faith just keeps getting stronger.

On the way home, my aunt recited something which she learned in her Catholic school:

Good, better, best.  Make the good better and the better best.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

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Going on a Bear Hunt

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The kids in my Pre-K class are fond of many silly little songs that are just fun to sing. They love to hop and twirl to “Freeze Dance,” act silly as they reenact “Totty-Ta,” shriek “EW!” to “Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream,” and sing about the fate of the meatball “On Top of Spaghetti.”

A favorite is “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” written by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. We sing a few variations. The premise of the original is that these children are searching for a bear, but they just can’t find him.  Challenges surface that they can’t avoid because as the book/song defines: you can’t go over it; you can’t go under it; you can’t go around it…you’ve got to go through it. They proceed to go through tall, wavy grass, swampy mud and a swirling whirling snowstorm complete with sound effects, swishy, swishy, squelch, squelch and hooo wooo respectively, repeating the choruses over and over and reenacting climbing in the grass, swimming in the mud and braving a snowstorm until they reach the bear.

As I was walking the children into school one morning, one little girl was softly singing the song to herself.  Now I had personally been going through a rough patch, and a new meaning to the words dawned on me…you can’t go over it; you can’t go under it; you can’t go around it; you’ve got to go through it. I mean, isn’t this a life lesson, after all?  Problems surface…health problems, financial problems, marital problems, personal problems, where you just can’t see the light of day and you want to find a way over them or under them or around them to avoid them completely.  But the fact is, you can’t skip the hurdles because that’s life. You’ve got to knuckle down and just go through them until you come out on the other side.

In the book the children find the bear at the end who ends up scaring the bejeebers out of them, and they wind up running back through the snowstorm, mud and grass to home base (along with the screaming and sound effects!). That’s probably what I would do if I were four-years-old and being silly. As an adult, I think I would face the bear and keep moving forward through my fears and challenges.

I guess they’re not all silly little songs.

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Be Still

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It’s 5 am, and I lay awake in the darkness not quite wanting to start the day and not quite tired enough to sleep any longer.  So I savor the stillness, and I think.  Not all good thoughts; not all bad thoughts.  Just things that randomly drift through my mind.  Things I really can’t control. Sometimes anxiety and stress can sometimes take over. I should stop fretting and worrying.  I try to refocus on things that bring a smile. Things that fill my heart with gratitude. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason or control in those wee small hours of the morning.

Life isn’t always smooth. Things usually don’t go the way you had planned or dreamed about. Maybe for some but not for most. Some are left to wonder why and trust in a plan that really hasn’t been defined as yet. And it’s OK because there is a lot of goodness and blessings that make your heart happy and satisfied if you can only envision them and realize what they are. There are moments of sheer satisfaction and contentedness and even joy. These are the things I have been focusing on.

In this time of Thanksgiving, it’s so important to be grateful for and to count the good things. To think about the graces and try to put the other stuff on the back burner.  You don’t have to resolve everything or have a plan of action.  Sometimes you just have to trust and give in and away that stuff that bothers you and know that it will all get taken care of and eventually figured out in the light of the days ahead.

The daylight is starting to dawn through the darkness. It’s getting brighter, and I can hear the peeping of the morning birds. I am filled with hope that all will be well. It’s a good place to arise and start the day.

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You Are Never Alone

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I came across something I’d written a few years back when I was hospitalized with a minor condition.  I’d actually been suffering for a week before I decided to seek a doctor’s attention.  And although my threshold for pain is very high, being admitted to a hospital was daunting.

I remember being scared and alone.  I was newly divorced and living in a rental by myself; my daughters were grown and lived hours away as well as my brother. They had put me on a strong medication for the pain while testing, and I was out of it. During the night a nurse came into the room to check my vitals.  She asked if I needed more medication, and even though I did, I requested a lighter dose because I felt I needed to have my wits about me.  She obliged after consulting with the doctor.  We got to talking and she was divorced as well, although way younger than me. She had taken a chance on marriage again and was very happy.  We had a little bit of a heart to heart, which I desperately needed.  When she was getting ready to move on, I confided in her that I felt so alone.  She turned and looked me square in the eyes and said, “Oh, you are NEVER alone.” Then she was gone.

That one sentence gave me the confidence I needed because I realized God was always with me. I looked out of the window and up into the sky and saw a brilliant orange moon, which was typical on an oppressively hot August night.  I prayed for my friend who was also in the hospital in the distant state of Indiana living out the last weeks of his life. My heart ached with the thought of how I would miss him when he passed because he had been my father figure, mentor and encourager since I was 19 years old. It was a horribly sad night for me.

I awoke the next morning somewhat renewed.  I luckily had a kind doctor who decided I would not need surgery and treated me instead with a heavy dose of antibiotics in an IV drip.

As I progressively improved, my family came to be with me.  I got stronger, and in a few days was able to leave the hospital. Although I wanted to see and thank the nurse who had helped me through that rough first night, I never saw her again. I still think of her as an angel sent to me.

I began to write down the lessons I learned during that trying period to encourage others who might find themselves going through a similar situation:

  • You are NEVER alone.
  • You can take care of yourself most of the time, but when you need help, asking for it is not a weakness.
  • You can have an infection without a constant fever.
  • Taking a shower with an IV in your arm wrapped in a plastic bag is doable.
  • Ice chips can be a big treat.
  • Clear liquids can be nourishing.
  • You don’t always need heavy-duty pain medication to get by, but can ask for them when needed on demand.
  • Just what the doctor orders is usually best, albeit contrary to what you think should be. Trust.
  • A private hospital room, if you are lucky enough to have one, is awesome.
  • Spending time in a hospital is not the worst thing in the world.
  • Construction outside your hospital window is not always noisy.
  • You don’t need TV to pass the time.
  • People are basically kind and caring.
  • Angels show up when you think you’re alone.
  • A big orange moon can seem like a friend smiling down on you.
  • Cards and flowers are wonderfully uplifting and heart warming to receive but not necessarily needed to make you feel cared about.
  • There are people in the hospital way sicker than you are, so it’s a strength to keep from complaining and pray for them instead.
  • God sends angels to call on you out of the blue.
  • God is always and forever with you.
  • Trust in God and in His goodness in all circumstances.

Deep Thinking From a Bird Watcher

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A ravaging, late winter storm with the fiercest of winds came along battering and breaking two of my favorite bird feeders. From the place in the sun room where I sit most mornings reading my devotionals and watching the different array of birds feeding, I felt a sudden void. The feeders had to be trashed, and before I could replace them, I watched the birds aimlessly peck at the ground and fly around the empty place they used to feed. Then they seemed to disappear.

IMG_1033Over a week went by before I was able to replace them, but by then the birds seemed to have left town.  I watched the two new colorful feeders from my chair, but the birds were nowhere to be seen.  Maybe they had flown the coop, taking a different route to new places and formed an attachment to a feeder far away. Since watching the birds each morning was very calming and soothing to me, I missed seeing the little sparrows, blue jays, Cardinals, doves and finches frolicking around and having their fill.

 

A few days went by, then a week and more without a sign of any of my feathered friends. The pretty little feeders, filled to the brim with sunflower seed, millet, corn and safflower stood vacant. Were the birds afraid of the new ones?  Had they left for greener pastures? All of this was laid before them, and all they had to do was feast. But they were nowhere to be found.

Then early one morning I looked out and saw a lone sparrow bravely perching on the new feeder.  Before too long another then another flocked nearby and before you knew it, we were back in business. I was finally able to sit back and enjoy the antics of my feathered friends.IMG_1065 (1)

Metaphorically, I couldn’t help but think of the times that opportunities were unknowingly set before me. Full and welcoming and just waiting for me to take that brave leap to try something new, however scary it might have seemed at first. But for one reason or another, I chose to be afraid and apprehensive and decided to disappear to somewhere else, to a different venue that was maybe not as uneasy or causing so much angst. Something more familiar than this something new I wasn’t sure of. If only I had been more courageous, then maybe I wouldn’t have settled for less, missing the feast that was set before me. And in retrospect, I’ve decided to be stronger and more watchful of new circumstances that may come my way under the guise of something unknown or obscure.

…and all of this pondering caused by a tiny bird who chose to be fearless enough to try a new feeder.

 

A FEATHER IN THE WIND

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feather2For most of my life I have felt like a feather in the wind. Like the one in Forrest Gump. The feather that symbolizes destiny and/or dumb blind luck. Forrest muses that maybe it’s a little mixture of both. It seems to point to an accidental kind of life, but it always shows up at just the right time, so maybe destiny brought it there. I ‘m not sure what I believe.

I’ve been blown this way and that way all of my life depending on the shift of air currents.  I, unfortunately, was one who rarely followed anything through to the end, instead giving up or getting bored and catching another breeze shifting me in another direction. At the beginning I set out with grandiosity in mind.  But I wasn’t as assertive or maybe as ambitious as I should have been.  So, instead of forging ahead with my own thoughts about how I wanted my life to play out, I let other people influence me and opposition to get in the way. I let it hold me back until I started to lack the strength to keep moving forward.  Instead I floated, like that proverbial feather, letting the shift of the wind carry me to wherever it happened to go. Obviously that grandiose picture of my life in my own head was not the destiny that was intended for me. Or could it have been different if I tried harder?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been blown to some amazing places in my life, and for the most part, I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve witnessed. I have had much happiness and joy.  It’s just now, during the impending autumn of my life that I feel a restlessness like I didn’t do enough to satisfy myself.  Wait, that’s not exactly true. I have felt restless all of my life. Fact. And currently I’m trying to come to grips with what seems next to impossible to achieve. Is mediocrity all that looms in the distance? If it is, I wish I could be content with just that. As I think back, there were many times in my life that I wish I could have just shot a little lower and been satisfied. But I never was and still am not. I often wonder if this is really it because restlessness overwhelms me and satisfaction eludes me. What will it take to bring me to that place? To bring me to peace?

These are just the things I’m pondering on a gray, rainy day. I’m sure most people contemplate the same at one point in their life or another for reasons different from mine.  There are no answers for the moment, and the contentedness I pray for evades me. Since I just can’t seem to get to that place, I figure that maybe I still have more to reach for even at this late date.

Forrest’s advice (and mine):  Don’t be a feather in the wind.  Take ownership of your life.

Keep reaching for and doing what makes you happy. Just keep running the race.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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A GOOD ONE

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It’s 11:35 p.m. on June 29, 2016. The last few minutes of my birthday are ticking away.  It’s been a very good birthday. A delicious birthday dinner prepared by my younger daughter, surrounded by my family.  My favorite cake and birthday song as my grandsons sit on my lap and help me to blow out the candles. A day at the beach and swimming at the pool with my daughters and grandsons. Special time together.  Nothing over the top.  Just quiet, happy, precious time together.

Unlike years past when I usually get depressed on my birthday, today I am satisfied. Usually, I’m very good at beating myself up on my natal day with the coulda…woulda…shoulda’s.  You see, I’ve only recently realized that I set my goals way too high at a very early age, and each passing year reminds me of what I didn’t accomplish and never will. Then I look into the future of a very narrow passageway and know that time is running out on the things I used to want to do.

IMG_2095But this year, I’m not thinking too much about the future.  I’m trying just to focus on and enjoy this day and all the joys it is bringing me. I’m trying to live life that way in general.  Just one day at time doing what I can with what I have and not dwelling on loftier things. I’m learning to accept what is instead of beating myself up over what isn’t. I am standing on even ground.

I looked over at my daughters this afternoon as they were watching a video on one of their phones together. They were laughing over something then looked thoughtful over something else. They didn’t know I was watching them. In that moment the thought “you did good” came to mind. Look at what I did. Those two wonderful daughters of mine turned out to be very good people.  Kind and smart and loving and generous and beautiful inside and out.  And I had something to do with that. And that is enough. They are the pride and joy of my life. When I look at them, the need to do more, be more, have more vanishes.  And when my twin grandsons run to me and greet me like I’m a rock star with their gleeful smiles screaming, “Mimi, Mimi!” I know there is nothing better in this world.

As I drove home tonight, I was thinking that this year my birthday is different.  This year I am happy. I yearn for nothing in this moment.  Sure, life has not been easy.  Who has an easy life? And many dreams did not come true.  So what? How many people live a fairy tale life? But the fact that my family loves me enough to plan a special day to celebrate my birth – well, how great is that?! And what more of a dream come true could there be?IMG_1193

It’s 12:17 a.m.,  June 30th.  My birthday is over for another year. I re-read my cards and come across one from my 88 year-old (ex) mother-in-law, who still thinks of me as her daughter, and it reads, “Sweetest Birthday Wishes to You….May each moment of your birthday be filled with the sweetest memories.” At the bottom of the card she writes, I like to remember the good ones, I hope you do, too.  I love you!  Mom

 This was a good one. I’ll remember and cherish it forever.